At ASM PLUS East Anglia, we want to tell stories on subject areas which are relevant to where our mediation skills can be employed and at the same time are local to us. It is all the better when it is a good news story of action, even though as often is the case the background is sad and challenging. #Mediation itself after all is a positive process arising from a negative.
We have all seen rough sleeping on the increase in the last few years. The subject is not one the media often touches – partly because I suppose it is always with us – but it hit the news recently when a homeless person died a few yards from the Houses of Parliament.
In Ipswich I have seen more sleeping in doorways in the town and under whatever shelter can be found: it is reckoned that people living on the streets has increased by 60% since 2010. Nationally, the increase is 170% over the same period.
Whilst never homeless myself (it can happen to anyone whose fortunes change) I have had some professional experience on the issues of homelessness: Until 5 years ago, I used to act for homeless clients under legal aid, challenging local authorities on their statutory duty to house homeless people. Some of them were living rough. I remember one was living in a tent in the park. Unfortunately, legal aid cutbacks made it harder and harder for solicitors to run this service effectively so my firm eventually had to withdraw.
An Ipswich couple have recently made an incredibly positive contribution to helping stem this growing problem.
In November 2016, Sarah and Gareth Brenland were eating in a town centre restaurant when they saw a homeless man outside. Gareth said he would buy the man dinner. The waiter said they did not do takeaways so Gareth ran to the nearby McDonalds.
This incident moved the couple so much they decided to take action. They set up a Facebook Group for donations. They then went further and decided to buy a second-hand bus and turn it into a shelter for homeless. They saw one on eBay. In the end the owners, Stephensons of Essex, kindly agreed to give it to them for free. Through his own skills and with donations, Gareth created 14 sleeping pods in the bus, plus a lounge and dining area.
The bus is known as Tiffers, after their 15-year-old daughter Tiffani who is also very involved in the project.
A year on, Sarah gave up her job and she and Gareth have dedicated themselves to helping homeless people. They have opened a second-hand shop for donations in Upper Orwell Street.
The project runs alongside a rehabilitation programme run by Turning Point and homeless charities are also now involved too. The Brenlands do what they can to assist people on the bus to get housing through the statutory routes.
This story is an incredibly positive one, especially in the context of contrasting examples of negativity or indifference towards homeless people. We should also be proud of our townsfolk that, in this, Ipswich is leading the way.
What is the long-term way forward for solving or at least alleviating the growing homelessness problem? Of course, there are some for whom homelessness is a purely a ‘lifestyle choice’, but not many. Of course, it is a matter of resources but there are ways to use resources more effectively by gearing them to solve the needs which are actually there, not just presumed to be there. Usually there are manifold issues, some born of misunderstandings. The homeless person should if possible be ready to address problems in their life which have caused or contributed to their situation. The rehabilitation programme with the Tiffers project is a good example of such a commitment. At the same time, local authorities and government, with the assistance of charities in the area, need to be more flexible in their response to the homeless person’s needs.
Mediation skills and services will help to effect the dialogue required to do this in almost every case.
In the meantime, long live Tiffers! Here is their Donate link: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/tiffersbus?utm_id=119
#ASM PLUS EastAnglia comprises Anthony, and David King a Civil and Commercial Mediator, Certified Accountant and the Senior Partner of Guymer-King Ltd. Enquiries or expressions of interest should be sent to the following: –
Anthony on firstname.lastname@example.org 01473 407109 and 07788428389
David on email@example.com 07917472726
Paul Sandford, The Director of ASM PLUS, 07476 279 307 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Civil and commercial mediator, mentor, trainer, author and consultant in long established firm of solicitors.